I was told that the meeting of the Planning Board on Wednesday was something not to miss! Alas, what can I say? I can’t be everywhere at the same time! But I have seen the notes from the meeting and it seems it was great!
I won’t bore you with the details (though to me the information was exciting) but basically with the absence of a local historic district in the City, the Planning Board seems to have devised a rather clever means of accomplishing much of the same by modifying the Section 6C provision.
Section 6C allows the following:
(1) The application shall include conceptual by-right development plans, such as a conventional subdivision, to demonstrate to the planning board that more than one residential structure per lot is a reasonable alternative to other allowed developments of the parcel involved.
But aside from the many sticky details of the provision, the idea is to allow for a project that demonstrates, now get this, a public benefit.
(2) A clear public benefit is derived from the proposed development, including but not limited to a long-term restriction involving one or more of the following:
a. Creation of affordable housing;
b. Preservation of historical structures; and/or
c. Conservation of significant natural resources.
You may say, “Yeah, so?”
“SO!?!” For years, we’ve had contractor and developers run roughshod over our City. Weeping with crocodile tears about the ‘hardships’ they face and how they won’t make any money doing their projects, they allow for terrible violations of our historic neighborhoods by building inappropriate mcmansions or build them with the act of swelling them for maximum square footage or building them higher than the surrounding historic building heights creating towering eye-sores. They build them cheap and crappy and then move out of the City with fattened wallets swapping tales with their buddies at the local bar how they snookered the City and did it over and over again. For years, I’d see them hanging around City Hall with smug, mocking faces hanging out with their buddies at 60 Pleasant Street. for decades, these contractors would ‘play’ the permit process, build what they wanted anyhow and then weep more crocodile tears if they occasionally were caught.
If you’ve lived here for any number of years and the glaze of our natural beauty begins to wear off, you begin to see, street after street, their handiwork. The City suffers, the taxpayers suffer and the homeowners, after settling into their so-called ‘historic homes’ slowly realize they were suckered too with cheap materials and greatly reduced equities. Then they really boil when the appraiser explains why they have lost ‘value’ in their renovated historic home. Then the local banks and realtors start to boil too when they try in the future to finance and resell these stinkers!
All developments are supposed to go through the permitting process to show that their addition to the community will show public benefit and will enhance the community over all. Theoretical yes. But in reality, administrations and City Hall employees, boards and commissions have chummed up to these exploiters in past years for a piece of the pie and hundreds of inappropriate buildings have been foisted on Newburyport.
By showing as part of the permitting process, they must now show concrete benefit, the entire atmosphere changes. The developer wins, future developers win, the community wins and important concepts of historic preservation, affordable housing and real quality of life improvements come to play.
It’s not perfect by any means and many projects will not choose the 6C as an avenue; but it’s a great step in the right direction in lieu of the local historic district.
Well done, (Yes, I am actually saying this!) Planning Board and the Planning Office!